I have often wondered what drives people to be obsessive about things and in particular to feel a need to collect every type available. I have never been one to collect; I had a stamp collection briefly as a child and also a collection of pig ornaments for a while but my interest in them soon fizzled out. So when I read about galanthophiles (snowdrop collectors) I am puzzled. After all the difference between the flowers seems to be so miniscule that its barely noticeable.
Anyway, I am a curious person always trying to understand or learn things so when the programme for the Womens Farm & Garden Association programme came out I was intrigued to see a ‘Guided Snowdrop Visit’ listed near Cirencester which is only about an hour from me. I had just joined WFGA so this was my first outing with them and I was thrilled to learn that my friend VP had also joined. I think we were both a little apprehensive but we needn’t have been.
The visit was to the garden of John Sales, the former garden adviser to the National Trust. I knew we were in for a good morning as soon as I turned into the driveway. Either side of the gate there was a display of Winter Aconites and Snowdrops and then the most amazing sight – the middle of the driveway was a sea of Winter Aconites (see below). I have never seen so many in one place.
There were 16 of us in total and VP and I were pleased to realise that the other ladies were just like us, keen and passionate gardeners. We started off indoors (it was raining at this point) with John giving us an introduction to the garden and some history of how it had developed over the last 30 years since he had moved there with his wife. John is 77 and has a wicked twinkle in his eye – the whole morning was full of quips and jokes, many a little politically incorrect but very very amusing.
The rain stopped and we trooped outside. John’s large collections of the more common snowdrops grow along a ditch and as you can see from these photos are quite stunning. Slowly I began to see the difference between some of the snowdrops. Some had glaucous leaves, some wide leaves, some bright green leaves. Some were much taller, although I wasn’t keen on these as they tended to droop down especially under the weight of the rain we had had. Some had long outer petals, some with small green marks – the differences went on and on and as the morning progressed I think we started to really get our eye in. We learnt that as a plant gets older so the flower stalk will get taller, presumably the bulbs builds up a larger and larger food store. I particularly liked the Snowdrop Galatia and Lavinia which had a very open flower.
We then moved on to the garden proper and as you can see there are very deep herbaceous borders with more snowdrops. John said that snowdrops didn’t do too well in a garden setting especially one like his which was gardened intensively. This is because the bulbs get disturbed and also shaded out by surrounding plants. We then saw the specials – each plant carefully labelled. John told us where they had come from, many as a result of his association with the National Trust. Some of the bulbs would have sold for quite large sums, amazing given the smallness of the bulbs! He has a number which have arisen out of crosses in his own garden and these are all named after his family members.
I still cannot understand the obsession with collecting the plants and some of them, particularly the one with yellow tinges to the stem, were really not that attractive in my opinion. But it was really fascinating to listen to someone who is passionate about their subject talk about it with such enthusiasm.
Chatting later in the pub with a couple of the other ladies we all agreed that the morning had been a much better way to see snowdrops than to visit an open garden where you wander around on your own and just read plant labels. VP and I also agreed that we much preferred to see the snowdrops en masse particularly on the banks as you had a really good view of them. We agreed that the bank at the back of my garden would look fab if I moved some of my snowdrops there so as soon as the flowers have finished I will be on the case. I didn’t enjoy the plants which were planted individually, the specials, they just seemed to be in the wrong environment.
I thoroughly enjoyed my day – a fab garden, an amusing and knowledgeable host and great company. I will definitely be going to some more WFGA events. I have also concluded that I have the wrong temperament to be a collector – I am far too much of a magpie flitting from one shiny thing to another.
You can read VP’s shorter review here – she doesn’t ramble on like I do!!